Image by Jon Jacobsen via Flickr
I have just finished watching M. Night Shyamalan’s latest work “The Happening” with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. It was a bit vague in explaining the reason for “the happening” referred to in the movie. The story is easy enough to understand: ordinary folks encountering a terrifying phenomenon that kills thousands of people without any direct cause. The theory being forwarded is that plants have begun releasing toxins in the air as a defense mechanism against humans which they view as threats. Whenever a large group of people converge near plants, the trees and even the grasses release these toxins that attack the nerve centers of the brain responsible for preserving the survival instinct. Without that function for self-preservation, humans are compelled to commit suicide in any way they can.
The phases are observable. There were signs that someone has been infected: repitition of words, paralysis, confusion in location or direction of movement, and at the end, exhibiting a series of actions to kill one’s self. So far, none of the victims shown in the movie include children. However, the scope of infection is assumed to be universal.
Plants talk with each other
At first it is considered as a freak of nature, a revenge of sorts by Mother Earth. Unfortunately, the geographical areas infected suggest that it might have been a government-sanctioned experiment gone awry. Only towns and cities in the NorthEast coast were infected. But no matter what it was, the immediate cause is clear: toxins were being released every time the wind blows. There is no escape because everyone needs to breathe.
It is strange, at first, to think of plants as threats to human beings. And it is ridiculous to consider that they will develop a deep connection for those who care for them. But this is the underlying theme of the movie. A character in the film explained that plants communicate with each other: the trees with bushes and the bushes with grasses. They respond when their caretakers talk to them in a soothing voice.
The same premise is explored in Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wind in the Door,” a young adult fiction about a young boy, Charles Wallace, who is suffering from a mysterious disease, and his devoted sister, Meg, who must save him before it’s too late. The story involved so many fantastical characters which include a many-winged and many-eyed cherubim, forae, Echthroi, and spiritual teachers in the form of a giant and a snake. The culminating sequence that determines the ending happens inside Charles’ mitochondrion.
Just like the plants in “The Happening,” the main characters in the book communicate silently. They call this kything, a non-verbal communion with each other. Communication and communion are different, but they intertwine when different beings interact with each other. Because of the differences in our capacities to speak and the barriers of our species, this spiritual communion is the only method that appear rational. But is it real?
Is this Possible?
Some research studies on plants seem to indicate, indeed, this is possible. Flowering plants and those that bear fruit respond well to music and a soothing human voice. Some which were exposed to noise and negative human language were sickly. While those which were left alone and didn’t receive any attention grew normally, but not as healthy as the first group. Even the responses of a plant when its caretaker leaves are indicative it can sense when the person is either away from or near it.
However, this kind of thinking may be explained as anthromorphism, which is attributing emotion or thought patterns to animals or objects which are incapable of achieving such dimensions. Aside from plants or animals (remember Lassie?), inanimate objects such as robots were also treated as if they have human characteristics. This may be because of the A.I. technology that science has long been fascinated with.
H.A.L. in Space Odyssey and robots in Japanese anime are examples of anthropomorphism with objects in movies. Godzilla and KingKong are animals, but mutated as monsters of great dimensions who feel either love or hate towards humans, just as the trees and grasses in “The Happening” did.
Maybe in a smaller scale this phenomena is possible. But for this to cause havoc and death as depicted in movies is somewhat stretching the facts a little to inject terror into the hearts of audiences.